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Researchers Show How Soil Is Unsuspecting Weapon In Fighting Climate Change

DAVIS (CBS13) -  We endure the results of climate change in California with raging wildfires and grueling drought seasons.  One of the contributing factors is carbon dioxide, but researchers discovered an unusual weapon against climate change right beneath our feet.  They believe soil is a lot more than just the dirt under your shoes.

"Climate change is right here, right now.  Whether it's the drought we're experiencing, the wildfire, the flood, the hurricane," said UC Davis Professor Ben Houlton with the Department of Land, Air and Water.

UC Davis students have spent the last three decades figuring out how soil can actually store carbon.

"Compost, it makes the plants grow more and they're able to suck more CO2 out of the air and store that into organic material in the soil," said Maya Almaraz, Program Manager Working Lands Innovation Center.

Think of it like adding probiotics to improve your gut health.  They're adding compost or even rock dust to improve soil health.

"Adding rock dust to the soil that you can get from old mining deposits that are going to waste that can then turn to carbon uptake sponges in the soil," said Houlton. "It can help with water conservation. It can help with nutrient and fertilizer use and it can help get CO2 out of the air. So that's the kind of win-win solution that we need to think much more about."

And that's where the magic comes in. These soil amendments basically pull the big-bad CO-2 right out of the air, stowing it away in the soil and helping the environment and us.

Delta farmer Ed Zuckerman doesn't just see it as dirt. Soil is the gold in the ground and he's looking at ways to turn healthy soil practices into profit.

"Agriculture is a tough game to make money in and we're working towards monetizing the sequestration efforts that we're doing with rice," said Zuckerman.

It is critical to turn agricultural lands from a carbon source to a carbon sink.  So getting farmers on board is the next step. California leading the way with one of the first programs paying farmers to enhance their soils.

UC ANR Orchard Adviser Kat Jarvis-Shean says government incentive programs have made a difference. California's Healthy Soils Program received $40.5 million in funding between 2016 and 2019 to provide grants to farmers who use healthy soil practices.

"Helping farmers and ranchers be climate warriors by how we take care of our soil because if we take care of our soil our soil will take care of us," said Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

"We're used to putting inputs like fertilizer or lyme on to our fields so applying something like soil amendments is something relatively easy for farmers to do and something we can start doing tomorrow," said Almaraz.

On a global scale, we emit about 40 billion tons of CO2 per year, but researchers estimate we can sequester about 10 billion tons of that through soil amendments.


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